Books & More from the Teen Scene

Book reviews and other reflections from one of Oregon's young adult librarians

“Vessel” by Sarah Beth Durst January 30, 2013

Filed under: Fantasy,Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:21 am
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Vessel cover

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The Facts

424 pages; September 2012

The Basics

As a chosen Vessel, Liyana is supposed to give her body to her clan’s goddess and drift away into the Dreaming. But when everything goes wrong and the goddess does not come, Liyana finds herself on a wild, desperate search for the magic needed to save her people.


Unlike most people, Liyana knows how she will die. She is the chosen Vessel of the Goat Clan. On the ordained day, as part of a carefully choreographed ceremony, she allow her soul to leave her body so that it can be filled by the Bayla, goddess of her clan. Liyana’s soul will travel forward into the Dreaming and Bayla – using Liyana’s well-prepared and well-trained body – will work the magic needed to save Liyana’s desert clan.

That’s how it was supposed to happen. Liyana did her part. She practiced. She dressed in a flowing robe. She marched to the oasis. She danced. But Bayla didn’t come. Liayana’s clan – believing she has been judged unworthy – leaves her to die.

But strong, smart, resourceful Liyana is not inclined to die. Korbyn, the god of the Raven Clan, appears and offers her an alternate explanation. Perhaps she was not rejected. Perhaps her goddess, among others, has been kidnapped and is in need of rescue. Together, they go on an epic quest to discover the secrets of the desert and what lies beyond.

Random Thoughts

1) I love an good opening line. This book starts, “On the day she was to die, Liyana walked out of her family’s tent to see the dawn.” And just like that, I was all in.

2) I’m a sucker for great characters and Liyana and Korbyn are fantastic. I was crushed when our time together had to end.

3) Is that not a gorgeous cover?


“Episodes: Scenes from Life, Love, and Autism” by Blaze Ginsberg January 27, 2013

Filed under: Memoir/Biography,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:51 am
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Episodes cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

304 pages; published November 2012 (although it should be noted that this is an update of a 2009 publication, Episodes: My Life as I See It.)

The Basics

This unusual memoir offers a glimpse inside the mind of an autistic teen as he progresses through high school obsessed with recycling trucks, buses, going to basketball games, and getting a girlfriend. He has organized his memories in a format similar to IMDB (the Internet Movie Database), summarizing the key events of each “episode,” and including sections for “notes,” “quotes,” “goofs,” and “soundtrack.”


The truth is, I didn’t like reading this book. I felt frustrated and impatient because I didn’t really care about many of the topics the author cares very passionately about and talks about over and over and over and over. However, I would still call it a “good” book because it got into my head and left me feeling like I had better understanding of how Ginsberg’s autistic mind works differently than mine.

He writes with a bleak honesty and occasional humor that is compelling. His stories were interesting. Ginsberg attended a special needs high school. He wants very much to make friends and he wants a girlfriend badly, but many of his relationships clearly stress him out. Buses are also stressful, because if they have the wrong kind of number or are the wrong kind of bus, he doesn’t like to ride on them. Recycling trucks are soothing and enjoyable, unless they don’t show up on schedule or the wrong truck comes. Then, they are stressful too.

Ginsberg’s family is another major theme in his writing. He has a large, loving extended family. His mother, grandparents, aunts, and uncles all appear frequently in episodes. A special series is devoted to Ginsberg’s favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, which is a huge family celebration.

The overall effect is undeniably interesting.

Quote that, in All Honesty, I Relate to More than Any Other in the Book

Maya (aunt): Try not to act so crazy.


“Stolen Into Slavery: The True Story of Solomon Northup” by Judith and Dennis Fradin January 16, 2013

Filed under: History,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 4:00 pm
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Stolen into Slavery cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

120 pages; published January 2012

The Basics

Solomon Northup was born a free black in New York and lived as a free black man for 33 years. In 1841, he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold to a slave trader. He survived 12 years of slavery in Louisiana before finding a way back to his wife and 3 children in New York state.


Humans of capable of doing terrible, terrible things. Solomon Northup was a husband, a father, and a free black man. In 1841, he was looking for work and made a connection to two white men who said they wanted to hire him to play his violin – an instrument he played with great skill – for a circus down the road. They traveled with him, ate with him, and gained his trust. They even helped him obtain papers proving he was a free man before the trio crossed into slave territory – Washington D.C. But the two men were just scheming. When they arrived in the nation’s capital, they carried out their real plan. They drugged Solomon and sold him to a slave trader for $650.

Solomon was not alone. Thousands of free blacks were stolen and illegally sold as slaves in the years before the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. There were laws against this, but as Solomon found, once he was in the hands of the slavers, he had no rights and no way of accessing the legal system. Solomon’s story – unlike the stories of many of these stolen lives – is known because after 12 years of living in slavery, he found a way to make contact and return to his home. In 1853, he published a book about his ordeal. That book is the basis for this story, which lays in out a simple narrative how it happened, how he survived, and all that Solomon had to endure.

It is the story of one man’s experience that increases understanding about the depth of the legacy of shame left by our nation’s slave past.


Side Effects …

Filed under: Quotes,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:26 am
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Some things linger in the mind. After finishing “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green, I found myself thinking about this:

“Whenever your read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying.”

Other things Hazel Lancaster identifies as “side effects of dying”:

– Cancer

– The rotating case of characters at the Cancer Support Group

– Worrying

– Parental permissiveness

– Nostalgia

– Thinking you won’t die


“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green January 15, 2013

Filed under: Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:20 am
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The Fault in Our Stars cover

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The Facts

313 pages; published January 2012

The Basics

Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters first connect when they both find the humor in their cancer support group meeting in a church basement. Together, they irreverently explore the impact of cancer, pursue big answers from the author of Hazel’s favorite book, and find humor and even beauty in the darkest of moments.


I came late to this book and I’m so sorry it took me so long to open it an fall head over heels in love with terminally ill Hazel Grace Lancaster and Cancer Kids friends. Hazel is hilariously irreverent from the first page – about her own crap lungs that force her to drag an oxygen tank everywhere, about the cancer support group that only makes it all worse, about the friend whose cancer leaves him blind, and about the wonderful, hot, one-legged cancer survivor Augustus Waters who seeks to woo her.

I was all in on this one by the end of the first paragraph because Hazel’s voice is so honest and so wry and so, so funny about things that ought not to be funny. Dark is my favorite kind of humor. But who could resist observations like this from the middle of a Cancer Support Group Meeting, “Like, I realize this is irrational, but when they tell you that you have, say, a 20 percent change of living five years, the math kicks in and you figure that’s one in five … so you look around and think, as any healthy person would: I gotta outlast four of these bastards.”

Hazel is also obsessed with a book about a cancer kid – a pretentious-sounding novel called A Imperial Affliction, the only novel of a now-complete hermit living in Amsterdam which ends in the middle of a sentence with all plot points dangling. Her desire to know what happens next elevates to near obsession and spurs a epic quest.

The book, like life, is not orderly, tidy, or predictable, but it is wonderful.

Random Thoughts

I’ve been meaning to read this book since it came out, but life is messy, right? Then, “they” all started saying this was the best YA book of 2012. I haven’t read them all, but I do think “they” are right – for once. I would even be so bold as to predict that The Fault in Our Stars will be one of those books that endure and find a place on YA shelves for enough years to be elevated to the status of “classic.”

Awards/Honors (so far …)

  • #1 New York Times bestseller
  • #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller
  • #9 The Bookseller (UK) bestseller
  • #1 Indiebound bestseller
  • New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice
  • Starred reviews from Booklist, SLJ, Publisher’s Weekly, Horn Book, and Kirkus
  • Goodreads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction (2012)
  • ALA Teens’ Top Ten Nominee (2012)

“If I Lie” by Corrine Jackson January 11, 2013

Filed under: Fiction,GLBTQ,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:04 am
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If I Lie cover

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The Facts

276 pages; published August 2012

The Basics

Everyone in town thinks Quinn cheated on her Marine boyfriend just as he deployed to Afghanistan. Only Quinn and Carey know the whole truth, but he’s gone and she’s not telling. Instead, she endures as she is shunned and bullied by everyone from her classmates to her own father. Now, Carey is MIA and Quinn looks worse than ever in her military town.


Here’s the truth, people. When Quinn’s best friend and boyfriend, Carey, came from on leave from the Marines, he broke up with her and broke her heart. Yes, she kissed another boy. Well, so did Carey. But Quinn got caught on camera and the picture ended up on Facebook and as far as anyone else knows, it’s a picture of girl cheating on an American hero. Why? Because Carey begged her not to tell his secret and Quinn agreed. So, even when the going gets tough, Quinn’s loyalty, honor, and love for her friend won’t allow her to reveal the truth.

Worse yet, everyone in town figures she’s just like her “slut” mother who did cheat on Quinn’s dad – and walked out on both of them while her husband was overseas. Quinn is in a miserable, no-win situation. All she has left to hang onto is her growing enthusiasm for photography and a grumpy old military photographer named George.

Random Thought

This was one of the most frustrating books I’ve ever read. Quinn is such a likable character that I wanted to be able to tell her how to fix everything. But the trap she was in was so complicated, even the truth was not going to ease her pain.


“33 Minutes … Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt” by Todd Hasak-Lowy January 7, 2013

Filed under: Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:53 am
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Images courtesy of

Images courtesy of

The Facts

224 pages; published January 2013

The Basics

Sam Lewis is in deep trouble and he knows it. Yesterday, Morgan Sturtz – the same guy who used to be Sam’s best friend – announced that he was going to kick Sam’s butt right after lunch. Just 33 minutes from now. Sam’s got a lot of thinking to do in those 33 minutes.


Sam Lewis is smart – Mathlete smart. His best friend, Morgan Sturtz, is a star on the middle school football team. Wait – did I say best friend? I should have said USED TO BE best friend. Sam and Morgan became best friends way back on the day they worked together to win a big baseball game. Sam and Morgan were best friends just a couple of months ago on The Absolutely Most Amazing Day Ever when they played the most perfect, beautiful game possible of Alien Wars.

But Sam and Morgan aren’t best friends now. Morgan is going to kick Sam’s butt right after lunch – 33 minutes from now – and everyone in the school knows it. Because Morgan and Sam haven’t been the same since Chris moved into town. And now Morgan has done something awful to Sam and maybe Sam has done something pretty awful to Morgan – because Morgan Sturtz is going to kick Sam’s butt.

Can anything save this friendship? Can anything save Sam’s butt?

Random Thoughts

I’ve never met a live Mathlete. For me, they are only the stuff of books and TV shows. Are they real?